Daily Archives: Wednesday, August 13, 2014

  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Matt Reeves (USA 2014)

    of the Planet of the Apes Matt Reeves
    (USA 2014) Gary Oldham. Keri Russell,
    Andy Serkis

    Viewed: 2D release at Empire Cinema Newcastle UK;
    ticket £7.50

    White man speak with forked tongue

    Delightful it is to see our simian cousins swing through the trees from branch to branch and in distressed pseudo-Gothic buildings, from beam to beam. There are moments of visual allure in the film but they barely compensate for an overall feeling of staleness of its ideas and its filmic reliance on the vacuity of the affect images that are overused in an attempt to implicate/absorb the audience in the state of mind of Caesar the Heap Big Chief Ape.

    Reeves’ Ape Dawn project actually seems to have stalled at the conceptualisation stage, a creative inability to establish the ‘Ape world’ beyond the stereotypes associated with the Noble Savage. Visually the Apes look move and rock and roll like monkeys, but conceptually they behave and respond as reborn Native Americans, Red Injuns in old money, caste out of old discredited Hollywood simplifications.

    There is nothing deeply alien or other in these Ape creatures. When they break out of their own communication code/language and speak English, they do so in the gruff manneristic way of the Apache in Stagecoach. ‘Ape not kill Ape!’ The way in which the Apes live together as one tribe, is Indian not animal so that when we see the Ape’s camp with its many fires, it looks like the scene from the Comache camp in the Searchers. And the ‘Dawn’ Apes unlike actual animals have a socio-political organisation based about the one leader, the Big Chief, which may be true for some Native American tribes but is not true for simian organisation.

    These creatures aren’t monkeys: Dawn is backdoor reinvention of the Western, a sort of redressed homage to the gold age of the genre.

    Even visually the Apes resemble the Injuns of old: their rib sections picked out in white, like Sioux war breast plates. The way the Apes ride their horses without stirrups looks like the image on the front cover of my copy of Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee. In the emotional tone of their responses, the Apes are American Native replicants. There is nothing intrinsically amiss in all this except for its predictability and the loss of a response spectrum that is animal not Disney anthropomorphic.

    To drive the narrative of ‘Dawn…’ the scripting department was unable to come up with anything more that a transposed Western Indian story which seemed so familiar I felt I’d seen it many times before. The story of the good leader, discredited in his relations with outsiders, overthrown and (nearly)slain by the upstart wannabe who then leads his people against the white man before being in turn defeated by the return of the true leader. It’s a variation on the Fort Apache script. The Apes even have a full frontal charge into the coral against the guns of the good town people.

    Dawn of the Planet of the Apes points to the creative hollow that underlies movies built on SFX. There is so much effort and cost expended in verisimilitude, in getting the wow factor going, that there is less investment in working out how to exploit the possibilities of this material in a scripting dynamic. Perhaps the huge expense involved (there were 1000’s of sfx workers credited) means the producers usually decide to play safe and opt for a straight concept backed by narrative characterised by simple devices and roles everyone can relate to. Fair enough, but it also seems something of a wasted opportunity to extend the extraordinary feat of the SFX into another conceptual dimension.

    As the film progresses it seems to become increasingly important to Matt Reeves that we ‘get’ the chimps as ‘affect’ creatures. Consequently this means that the audience are subjected to long big close-ups of the Apes’ faces, close-ups characterised by immobility of the features. In fact these shots are mostly of Caesar as he is the central player. These long durational shots are supposed to make an affect image of his face so that the audience absorbed by Caesar’s immobility intraject their own states of mind onto his face so supplying an inducted internality to his character. Whilst this mode of shot can be highly affective, I don’t think it works very well in Dawn of the Apes. There is something in the Ape mask that resists human affective intrajection. But even if it might have worked once as a shot, the multiplication of the series of shots of Caesars face in Big Close Up exhausts the affect circuitry leaving only banality.

    And banality is the mood music of Dawn, and of course the plot is nicely set up for a sequel of more of the same. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • God’s Pocket John Slattery (USA 2014)

    God’s Pocket John Slattery (USA 2014) Philip Seymour, Christina Jenkins, Richard Jenkins Viewed Empire Cinema Newcastle UK 12 AUG 2014; ticket: £3.50 How to lose your soul God’s Pocket reminded me of Carson McCullers’ work. Slattery’s film, based on Pete Dexter’s novel though set in the North rather than the South, has that same feeling of pervasive decay attaching to it; a decay of community registered in the sepia grain of its colour. God’s Pocket is set in the 1980’s, and basks in the eternal etiolated twilight of ‘50’s America. A place where filmmakers go when they want to find somewhere the human face and the human body not computers iPhones and tablets, are the interlocutors between people. A vanished world. A vanishing America. So this is a movie about place and the qualities that people bring to their neighbourhoods. As an ensemble piece centred on the eponymous small community of God’s Pocket it invites some comparison with the films Frank Capra made in the1940’s celebrating small town America: It’s a Wonderful Life, Mr Smith goes to Washington. Capra’s movies were optimistic affirmations of American values; decency individualism and democracy. Looked back on the films have an inherent charm, but the scripting’s were not representative in any meaningful way of blue collar working class or minority groups. They were an idealistic rendering of a homogenous America, a setting with apposite values later exploited by Spielberg’s suburban dream. Nevertheless as expressions of an idealised people Capra’s films were powerful sentimental models. Slattery’s film moulded around the face and body of Mickey (played by Seymour), comes across as a particular statement about the way things are today. Not of aspirational hope or optimism in the values of US society, but a study of decadence. A society that is dilapidated, coming apart in the constant flux of unravelling values. A society that partially lame hobbles on. It is not so much the people of God’s Pocket who are degraded rather the system, the social and economic matrix. The people respond as best they can to the pressures within which they have to survive. We’re looking at a broken machine held together by human resilience. Even for the ‘respectable’ inhabitants of the neighbourhood, those trying to work, the small business people, everyday life is circumscribed and penetrated by debt gangsters and crime. These people pay the ‘Goodfellahs’ whores. And they now have to ‘whore’ for themselves to exist. Initially the film’s structure is woven about a Voice Over, the words of Richard Shelburn, a journalist on the local newspaper whose poetic insight into the community again reminds me of McCullers prose ( She must have been an inspiration to many writers of Dexter’s generation). It’s not so much a Voice Over but almost a Greek Chorus a heightened poetical polemic whose muse is truth. What develops in God’s Pocket is that this chorus, Richard’s voice gradually leaves the wings and takes on a full frontal character in the script. Richard Shelburn moves from being a voice off to having an identity, a physical presence, an active role and to finally being centre stage. There is scope in terms of script and film structure for a Voice to become a flexible component in a film’s structure. Too many films are structured about Voice Over narration that is predictable and flabby, comprising a Ready-Brek solution to core scriptive and filmic problems. So the idea of a Voice that elides into a different type of dramatic presence has transformative possibilities. In God’s Pocket I think this movement of voice into presence doesn’t work. It feels like the intrusion of what is a subjectivity into collectivity. The elemental basis of God’s Pocket is its collective character which is reflected in its ensemble playing. The community is a decaying matrix of family ethnic and business ties corrupted by debt and gangsterism. Slattery brings this complex of relations into play through the device of a sudden death that agitates the community sending a series of adaptive and sometimes violent ripples across its surface. Interestingly the key filmic component of the collective playing is not the wide shot but the close up. The face reacts to relations, and by framing his camera on the face and body, Slattery negotiates the ebb of flow of emotions deals and conflict. One of the strenghts of God’s Pocket film is the use of the face to reveal the nature of these interconnecting reactions. But more than this the face suggests the strands of consciousness and cognizance that lie below its surface. In the strong scene in the bookies, with bets on, it feels possible to see beneath the surface of the expressions in the faces of the two gamblers and pick up the scent of drugs and protection rackets that undelay this culture. The intrusion of the journalist, Richard Shelburn, into the story is an individualist intrusion that undermines the core collective substance of the film without any compensating benefit. The final centre stage liaison between Richard and Jeannie (Mickey’s wife) feels like a mechanical device. It betrays the film in a number of ways. It undermines any moral dimension to Jeannie. OK, she is in a way peripheral (all the women in God’s Pocket are peripheral), but even in her peripherality she conveys a certain insistent strength of character. The idea that she fucks an old celebrity journalist because he spouts some tired old prose at her (the fucking in God’s Pocket is joyless pump house style). It’s a scripting decision that demeans her. A device to work Richard from the back stage to front of house. A device that only succeeds in debasing the movie. Changing it from gold to lead. Slattery may argue that the device eventually allow the repressed violence of God’s Pocket to be revealed. But we get this eliptically from the body of the movie without needing to see Richard kicked to death. God’s Pocket is a movie that doesn’t so much have a narrative but works by creating a world of collective interconnectivity that is undermined by a liaison that takes place outside its own parameters of significance, crudely interpolated and without compensating gain for the audience in either insight revelation or even tension.

    So long as it remains true to its collective focus God’s Pocket unfolds as a series of expressive vignettes of blue collar community. However corruped God’s Pocket retains it sense of identity. When it loses this focus it loses it soul. The actual ending in the trailer park is interesting as it suggests a sort of idea: that the only movement possible is to find a ‘way out’. Perhaps somewhere like Florida where they have a benign proactive gun laws. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

  • Two Days One Night (Deaux Jours un Nuit) J-P & L Dardenne (Bel/Fr 2014)

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    Two days one night (Deux jours un nuit) J-P & L Dardenne (Bel/Fr 2014) Marion Cotillard; Fabrizio Rongione Viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle, 6th Sept 2014; Ticket £7.30

    I came out of this film, looked in the mirror and saw myself: Adrin Neatrour. My situation as a worker,of the second class order, employed in a medium sized housing business. My life periodically lived on the the edge of humiliation and fear. ‘Cover your back!’ that’s what they say, ‘Don’t let the bastard managers get you.’

    This is a film about the contemporary work situation. The Dardennes brothers probing the nature of work and work relations not only in the film script but also the structure style and manner in which their film is shot.

    The Dardennes film is an exploration of the psychic conditions governing post industrial work conditions. An exploration that uses ‘Linda-machine’ as an individual subject in post industrial work-relations. In the post industrial landscape the workers are no longer slaves to machines, rather they are part of an extended apparatus comprising stream of just-in–time communications of which they are an integral part. The worker no longer tends the machine but in a sense they have to become machines/ or robots in themselves. There is no longer a collectivity of shared experience but a subjectivity of experience. In the face of the evolving micro management the possibility of shared dignity (in the face of oppression and class war) is replaced by individuated degradation.

    Two days one night is a contemporary horror story. But unlike the quasi metaphoric forms that use the horror genre and exploit alien life forms, vampires, monsters, slashers and fuckers for affect, Two days one night is casually and prosaically actual everyday terror of work.

    It examines how work has become a subjectivity of individuated entrapment. The nightmare is that workers find themselves living in a closed circuit of amplification wired up to the poles of desire and fear. A life defined by mortgages high end consumer products and debt generates desperation for work at whatever cost as the desire to pay off the mortgage intensifies the fear of losing one’s job. The consumer praxis: everyone must work, everyone must pay their dues to the ministry of fear.

    Old school industrial relations were macro managed through politics and the laws governing collective rights. Biased against the worker as were these the institutions, class consciousness and opposition were significant positive psychic opperants in play under these conditions. Cut to today and the situation is quite different. The dominant pattern is the mitivesicro management of workers in comparatively small groups. Characterised by anxiety and dependence, the psychic opperants in play are compliance and isolation. Large numbers of managers monitor the states of mind ofcomparatively small numbers of workers assessing them not just for output but or attitude and psychological fitness for purpose.

    I referred to the film as having an exploratory nature. By this I meant that the script probes in depth the relations and situation of Linda, the main character. Linda-machine has had a break down causing her to miss work for a time. When Linda-machine wants to start work again the company have discovered they don’t need her but that they do need to save money. The workers are given a choice: they can choose for Linda to return to work and lose their bonus, or keep the bonus money and choose that Linda loses her job.

    The proposition put to the workers at the start of the film encapsulatess the worker’s dilemma. They are given choices, pre-selected choices which offer them illusion of control over their future but deprives them of the autonomy of decision making. The multiple choice management tactic not only is a divisive but it forces the workers into emotional subjectivity exposing them to denigratory self examination and confirming them in psychic isolation.

    So Linda undertakes, at the urging of her husband and friend a quest to ask her co-workers to save her job, to forego their E1000 bonus. But before she begins her odyssey of ritual humiliation it becomes clear that Linda-machine is really a broken machine. But no one wants to see that she is broken. Everyone including Linda-machine herself is governed by fear. It is too frightening to think that the psychic reality of post industrial work may be more than Linda-machine can tolerate. As she desperately pops the pills to keep herself up and running, husband, Manu-machine and friends increasingly pressurise her to plead for her job. Life is a rollercoaster of desire and fear whatever the cost. But the cost to Linda-machine is to her own existence. to work under these conditions is perhaps something she cannot do. It is killing her. But the question cannot even be formulated. Like machines she and her husband are simply wage earning robots: eating junk food, and making money for the bank under the guise of home ownership. And Linda herself realises the solidarity between herself and her husband is based on their entrapment in the apparatus of work and debt, not love. No sex in the machines.

    As Linda-machine visits her fellow workers to ask them to save her job, the filmic nature of her ordeal reveals the apparatus. Like a terrible chasm it opens up beneath her feet forcing her to see into its depth. And she grasps that this apparatus with its cogs wheels gears and chains comprises the subjectivity of very people she is petitioning. Everyone is trapped in desire fear circuit which extracts from them its tribute of self loathing and humiliation. And of course through these others, she sees herself. It is the this reflected image of her debased self that nearly kills her.

    Two days one night is a moral film. Like Bresson, the Dardennes ask a question in film and answer the question on their own terms. The moral core of Dardennes film is honesty. A truthfulness to the forces it sets into play. And this truth is not only expressed in the integrity of the script but also in the shooting and settings. Two days one night is shot as a series of long takes. The purpose is not the current fashion for long takes for their own sakes, but to provide the space for the actors to play out their roles in situation. It is situation rather than character that moulds the performances. Had Two days been shot conventionally as shot reaction shot, the scripting would have lost its force, reducing the dyadic meetings to a series of reactive expressive face moments. Shot as a long takes the actors released into situation can respond to its demands with honest constancy and without faked emotions.

    The settings used by the Dardennes also carefully calibrate the regime of the contemporary apparatus. Linda-machine’s house is a laboratory for living, but not the type envisaged by the Bauhaus. Her house is no longer a place of sanctuary, rather it is a nerve centre of a never ending inflow and outflow of communications. There is no peace only the agitation of demands and responses. The bedroom is not a place of sleep and love, but foetal pain; the bathroom a place of self medication; the kitchen a place to consume industrialised food. The house we see in Two nights and a day is a transformed space; no longer private but wired up to the apparatus of which it is a part.

    The exterior Belgium settings do not comprise a world of: shops, malls, history. We see Belgium of the suburbs, of anyplacewhatsoever: standard red brick and concrete backgrounds. The ordinary, where the invisible processes of our society play out. Yet the Dardennes make extraordinary use of these modest vistas. As Linda makes the pitch for her job against the red and the grey, a transient beauty is glimpsed and sometimes it seems as if the brothers were exploiting a subtle code in background colour to express the quality of the negotiations.

    As I said I came out of the movie looked in the mirror and saw myself. This is one of the Dardennes brothers very best films that quits on a note of optimism after unflinchingly revealing to ourselves what we have become. Adrin Neatrour adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk